Just Say ‘Yes’

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you … was not Yes and No, but in Him was Yes. For all the promises of God in Him are Yes, and in Him Amen, to the glory of God …. (2Co 1:19-20)

+++

It is very hard to say “No,” despite the fact that we say it all the time. The reason “No” is so hard is that it has no energy. Not doing something is an emptiness and carries no weight. It creates a vacuum that waits to be filled.

In observing my own life, I have become aware that I spend a lot of time saying “No.” There are things I don’t want to see, so I have to say “No” to them…things I don’t want to hear…things I don’t want to say or do or think…all to be met with “No.” A day spent in such wrestling is exhausting in the extreme. It is also frequently a path to failure. “No” has no energy and it places the will in a position of weakness. The will was created to will something, not nothing.

St. Paul’s observation that the promises of God are “Yes,” is a key to the daily struggle. The absence of sin isn’t the same thing as righteousness. Righteousness is a fullness and a presence. Sin itself is an emptiness and has the character of non-being. The spiritual life is fulfilled in righteousness – true rightness of being – living in the image of God.

A simple way of living this reality is to say “Yes.” If I do not want to do one thing, then to what do I say “Yes?” If I do not want to hear something, to what do my ears say “Yes?” And so forth.

And there is another step beyond. It is possible to say “Yes” repeatedly throughout the day. The simple phrase, “I say “Yes” to God,” carries a great deal of power. I have learned to make it a frequent confession in my day. I say “Yes” to God. I say “Yes” to my life. I say “Yes” to this problem. I say “Yes” to the mistakes I have made. It is a means of affirming that God is working all things together for my good – even my mistakes.

Say Yes.

80 comments:

  1. Father Bless,
    You are correct. “No” is inaction, doing nothing. “Yes” especially in answering God requires action. Inaction is non being, action is being. In order to make “No” and action one has to say “Yes” to actions that contrary to a negative activity that are a step towards being. Righteousness requires steps in the direction of becoming like God, not simply doing nothing. If I am tempted towards an action that could be sinful, merely not doing the action is nothing. Replacing that act that negative act with a positive act such as prayer, is a step towards being.

  2. This post gives me such joy! I have some significant health challenges right now–and have been saying, No, in an effort to set some boundaries to help restore my health. What a difference it would mean if I said, Yes, to the giving myself times of rest in God to heal. Thank you and blessings!

  3. Thank you Fr. Stephan! This is so profound.

    “A simple way of living this reality is to say “Yes.” If I do not want to do one thing, then to what do I say “Yes?” If I do not want to hear something, to what do my ears say “Yes?” And so forth.” – this is wonderful!

    I was busy with Genesis 2 today on the tree of knowledge of good and evil – I find we often move from the bad branches to the good branches not realizing we are in the wrong tree!or partaking of the fruit that leads to death. In that tree we move into the delusions of mere choice or decision [morality ect..]. The Tree of Life is Gods “Yes” and our “yes”. It is always yes. It is not another option or a better option. It is our Life – like a fish does not have the option to choose water or sand – it is always yes to the water.

    Thank you for another great post! Thankful for all things, always “YES”!

    Bless, JP

  4. This message is so glorious! I really needed to hear this today! Thank you!
    Lord, help me to say yes today!

  5. I think these quotes support saying “yes” to a life in Christ…

    Forget all about your weaknesses… Make no effort to free yourself from these weaknesses. Make your struggle with calmness and simplicity, without contortion and anxiety. Don’t say, “Now I’ll force myself and I’ll pray to acquire love and become good.” It is not profitable to afflict yourself to become good. In this way, your negative response will be worse. Everything should be done in a natural way, calmly and freely. Nor should you pray, “O God, free me from my anger, my sorrow, etc.” It is not good to pray about or think about the specific passion; something happens in our soul and we become even more enmeshed in the passion.

    Attack your passion head on, and you’ll see how strongly it will entwine you and grip you, and you won’t be able to do anything. Don’t struggle directly with temptation, don’t pray for it to go away, don’t say, “Take it from me, O God!” Then you are acknowledging the strength of the temptation and it takes hold of you. Because, although you are saying, “Take it from me, O God,” basically you are bringing it to mind and fomenting it even more… Let all your strength be turned to love for God, worship of God, and adhesion to God. In this way, your release from evil and from your weaknesses will happen in a mystical manner, without your being aware of it and without exertion.

    This is the kind of effort I make. I have found that the bloodless mode is the best mode of sanctification. It is better, that is, to devote ourselves to love through the study of the hymns and psalms. This study and preoccupation directs my mind to Christ and refreshes my heart without my realizing it. At the same time I pray, opening my arms in longing, love, and joy… the Lord takes me up into His love. That is our aim — to attain to that love… There are many other ways… through remembrance of death, of hell, and of the devil. Thus, you avoid evil out of fear and through counting the cost.

    In my own life, I have never employed those methods which are exhausting, cause a negative reaction, and often produce the opposite of the desired effect. The soul, especially when it is sensitive, is filled with gladness and enthusiasm through love; it is strengthened and transforms, alters, and transfigures all the negative and ugly things. For this reason, I prefer the “easy path,” that is, the way that leads through the meditation of the poetic canons of the saints, the ascetics, and the martyrs. It is good to “steal” their wisdom, that is, for us to do what they did. They cast themselves on Christ’s love. They gave their hearts. We must steal their method.

    ~Saint Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p. 137-138.

    Instead of concerning yourselves with the devil and his knaveries, and instead of paying attention to your passions, you should turn to the love of Christ… Without our being aware of it, the evil one sets snares. With eager longing for Christ, the power of the soul escapes from the traps and runs to Christ. This is a marvelous thing, a more elegant approach. To enter into the fray with your enemy means getting involved in the hurly-burly of battle. In the love of Christ, however, the confusions and pressures of combat are avoided. Here the power of the soul is transfigured without effort… It is achieved only through divine grace. The contest with evil, through the grace of God, is carried out without bloodshed and without exertion, without pressure and without strain.

    This is how I, in my own poor efforts, have approached matters since I was a boy… I didn’t want to think about the snares; I was indifferent to them… I don’t like to converse with the “old self” …When you try to escape from the old self, without the gift of grace, you are drawn into it… But, with the gift of grace, it no longer concerns you. It continues to exist deep down… But with grace… [it] is transubstantiated, altered and transformed… Christ wishes us to unite ourselves to Him, and He waits outside the door of our soul. It is up to us to accept the divine grace. Only divine grace can change us. On our own, we can do nothing. Grace will give us everything. For our part, we should attempt to reduce our egotism and self-centeredness and to have humility. If we give ourselves to Christ, all the negative reactions of body and soul go away.

    With divine grace, all things are possible… With divine grace, all things become painless. Employ this gentle method. Don’t struggle to expel darkness and evil. You achieve nothing by flailing at darkness. Are you in darkness and do you want to escape? …Do you wish light? Open a little hole and a ray of sunlight will enter and light will come. Instead of expelling darkness and instead of fighting the enemy to prevent him from entering into you, open your arms to Christ’s embrace. This is the most perfect way. Don’t wage war on evil directly, but love Christ and His light, and evil will then retreat.

    ~Saint Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p. 147-149.

    Communication with Christ… makes the devil flee. Satan does not go away with force and coercion. He is sent away with meekness and prayer… Do not concern yourself with the devil, nor pray for him to leave. The more you pray for him to leave, the more tightly he embraces you… Don’t meet him head on… Don’t look at evil. Turn your eyes to God’s embrace and fall into His arms and continue on your way. Abandon yourself to Him; love Christ; live in vigilance…

    When you see the contrary spirit approaching to take hold of you, do not be afraid; neither look at it, nor attempt to expel it from within you. What do you do?… Open your arms to Christ like a little child… That is how to deal with every attack by the evil one and with every evil thought… At the moment when your soul is in danger and you are struggling, cry out, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.” Beat off everything with timely prayer. This is the great secret…

    At the moment of temptation, the easiest thing to do is to turn… to God, and to turn to Him steadfastly and expectantly, and you will be filled with strength at once. As soon as you see evil coming to get you, ignore it and run to God’s embrace. Turn to Him… When you go towards good, you cease to remember evil. This is the secret… Turn to Christ, run to Christ, open your arms to Christ, try to get to know Christ, to love Christ, and to feel Christ. And through this effort… grace opens your soul and… with Christ’s grace, all things are easy…

    ~Saint Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p. 149-151.

    Nowadays people often feel sadness, despair, lethargy, laziness, apathy… They are downcast, discontent and melancholy. They… spend vast sums on psychoanalysts and take antidepressants… Our religion believes that these states derive from satanic temptation.

    Pain is a psychological power which God implanted in us with a view to doing us good and leading us to love, joy and prayer. Instead of this, the devil succeeds in… using it for evil. He transforms it into depression and brings the soul into a state of lethargy and apathy. He torments us, takes us captive, and makes us psychologically ill.

    There is a secret. Turn the satanic energy into good energy. This… requires… humility. With humility, you attract the grace of God. You surrender yourself to the love of God, to worship and to prayer… All evil feelings, insecurity, despair and disenchantment, which come to take control of the soul, disappear with humility…

    This state is cured by grace. The soul must turn to God’s love. The cure will come when we start to love God passionately. Many of our saints transformed depression into joy with their love for Christ… They… gave it to God and they transformed it into joy and exultation. Prayer and worship gradually transform depression and turn it into joy, because the grace of God takes effect.

    When you give yourself to God and become one with Him, you will forget the evil spirit which drags at you from behind… And the more you devote yourself to The Spirit of God, the less you will look behind to see the spirit that is dragging at you. When grace attracts you, you will be united with God. And when you unite yourself to God and abandon yourself to Him, everything else disappears and is forgotten and you are saved…

    The great secret, in order to rid yourself of depression and all that is negative, is to give yourself over to the love of God… Occupy oneself with… the Church, in reading Holy Scripture and attending services. As you study the words of God, you are cured without being aware of it… The love of Christ… takes the soul captive… The grace of God fills the soul and changes it… A cure is to be found through love for God and prayer, provided this is done with all her heart. This is the secret remedy.

    ~Saint Porphyrios, Wounded by Love, p. 178-179.

  6. For a short article, this is a thinker.

    The first line, “it is very hard to say no” took my thoughts in a different direction. How many of us say “yes” when we want to say “no” – and perhaps would be wise to do so. All of these yeses that are motivated by a need to please others, avoid their displeasure, or rescue people is, in reality, an inability to set healthy boundaries.

    There is also the difficulty saying no that belies the compulsive “yes”. I must do such and such thing because I “should”. I should help this person, I should go to church every time it is possible to go, etc. While some of those opportunities certainly ought to be embraced, there can be an unhealthy inability to say no that doesn’t allow for balance or self-care in life choices. I do not act out of love but out of some other drive, perhaps a false notion of guilt or the perfection that pleases God.

    The gift in this article is that there is a different sort of saying “yes” that I am always free to say. First and foremost, I say it to God, to His holy Will. Even if I am not sure what His Will is, my “yes” has an energy and purity of intention that cannot help but be pleasing to Him. And this sort of yes-saying (unlike those recounted above) leads to what I can do (or perhaps more rightly, who I can be) in all situations, even those where I may discern that a decline is more appropriate.

    A simple example: in the area in which I live it is a common occurrence to encounter people begging. At the drug store entrance, at the gas pump, occasionally even at my door. While sometimes I give, there are times when I feel that is not the appropriate choice. But whether I give or not, I can follow the yes-saying recommendation of Mother Gavrila. I may ask the person their name, tell them mine and shake their hand. I can ask them how they came to be in such unfortunate circumstances and show empathy and concern. I can treat them as God’s beloved, whether I give them money or not. Even when I give no money, this becomes a “yes” which is more true than the “no” of simply ducking and pretending they are not there.

    Count me in. I’m saying “yes” today…

  7. Christ is risen!
    I was struggling for an approach to the day that would calm the storm inside and allow me to rise above the external tempest.
    It’s hard when you get all sorts of well-meaning advice from the world, to filter and to know.
    The shining golden thread of the Logos is woven into this whole tapestry, if we seek it out and ‘learn to see’.

    I wanted to say ‘No’, to shrink, to find some respite for my tattered consciousness…
    I’ll just lean into Love instead. The fear and the despair I just won’t give a beachhead.

    I’ve been helped so much by your writings, Fr. Stephen, and our blessed commenters.
    Thanks to all of you but today, especially, Esmee La Fleur.

    If you are getting to know/recognize me, I’m going to start posting under my baptismal name, (Bishop of Myra and Lycia), so if you see that name with this same voice and aching, yearning heart, you’ll know it’s not just a coincidence.

    God bless you all.

    Christos Anesti!

  8. Short and sweet, Father. Comprehensive, thought provoking.
    So good when the ‘simple’ is brought to the fore.

    “No” has no energy. It creates a void.
    Places the will in a position of weakness. Lack. Non-being.
    The will was created to do “something”, not nothing.
    The absence of sin isn’t the same as righteousness. Clean on the outside but inside, dead bones.
    Righteousness is a fullness (saying yes) and a presence (‘being’, as icons of our Creator).
    Redirect by reasoning…”to what do I say “Yes?” A type of questioning which fulfills.
    And most important, applied to union with God…say yes to God, to our problems and mistakes, or as Juliania said in the previous post when we “get out of step with the program”, knowing God is working all things for good (our salvation).

    Esmee…I am wonderfully amazed. Last night, after reading the last section of comments as we exalt the love of Christ, I came away with the thought of the cleansing fire of His love…and specifically the thought “wounded by His love”! I forgot where I heard that before, and went over to my bookshelf, and there is was…. the title of St Porphyrios’ book! Haven’t read it yet. It has now moved up to “to be read soon”!
    I love when these things happen. Such a movement of the Spirit! A confirmation of our unity!

    JP…really good reflection about God not being an option, but always a “yes”.
    Genesis is so rich in the revelation of God and His hand upon creation!

  9. I too needed this message. I am struggling to accept isolation and solitude after my husband’s death last year. I’ve been whining to God about why all my friends have dropped me but I see I must quit striving to have things be the way they were before and say an unqualified YES to what God wants for me now. Yes to God’s will.

  10. Mary B
    Very good point about the compulsive “saying yes”. A reaction to guilt. Ironically, that leads to an emptiness as well, in that it lacks the fulfillment of saying a “different kind of yes” to God. Even when unsure and left “hanging”, we can be confident that in all things He wills our good.
    I like your example of almsgiving. I think the simple act of communicating with those who are begging extends deeper into the soul. It is an affirmation of their worth as a child of God. I think about the “I and Thou” thing.

    William, thank you. We shall see you in your “new name”! God’s blessings to you as well!

  11. Father: your teaching on understanding the ontological viewof Christianity have been great. I am so soaked in moralistic do the right thing approach that I get lost easily. One area of confusion has to do with the protestant denial that man has any good in him and has capacity for great evil (Holocaust). They tend to look at ontological teaching as avoiding this reality. You have pointed out many times (Archimandrite Zacharias) that Communion leads to seeing your “real” self. There seems to be a different take on sin. In the Protestant world sin is elevated in importance (moralistic approach?) and in the Ontological approach it seems to focus more on the person than on the behavior (sin). Other areas have to do the love/wrath of God. Ontological thinking- if I understand- that God loves all and wants all to be saved. And some Protestant thinking would have some condemned from the beginning. Your articles have lead me to a feeling I’ve never enjoyed–That I am no longer under condemnation! I know this is elementary. I do appreciate you and the commenters who have made recommendations, etc. Thanks.

  12. I am so glad that these words of Saint Porphyrios have touched many of you in a positive way. I read his book, Wounded by Love, for the first time 15 years ago as a new convert. I have read it 3 more times since then, underlined it, and transcribed all of my favorite quotes for easy reference. I cannot recommend his book highly enough. It has profoundly influenced my own Orthodox journey. I would suggest starting with the second part (his words) and then going back to read part one (his biography).

    Mother Gavrilia, mentioned by Mary Benton above, is like the female counterpart to Saint Porphyrios. Her book, The Ascetic of Love, conveys much the same message and approach to living a life of love in Christ. She lived most of her life in the world, but not of the world, following Christ with her whole heart, mind, soul, and strength, literally saying “Yes!” to everything He gave her. She completely trusted that if she said “Yes!” to something that was not God’s will, then He would alter the circumstances and not bring it to fruition, and that certainly happened a few times over the years. Her book is currently out of print and very expensive, but if you can find a way to borrow a copy, it is also a very wonderful demonstration of what it can actually look like when we abandon ourselves totally into God’s hands and say “Yes!” to Him without reservation.

  13. Esmee,
    Ever since I saw the title “Wounded by Love” I have greatly desired to read that book. I haven’t had the opportunity yet but you have encouraged me to make it a priority.
    Thank you!

  14. The Yes rather than No is a matter of focus. When I am concentrating on the commandments of the Lord, I am too busy to waste time on the desires of the enemy. When we say Yes to God, we are at the same time saying no to the enemy of our soul. I correlate this homily by Father Stephen to the homily given by Abbot Tryphon of Vashon Island this morning:

    “At the very first moment you decide to turn to God, your heart begins to be warmed by the action of the Holy Spirit. Your heart is kindled with the divine flame that will transform you. This flame will consume you completely, and will melt everything of a fallen nature within you. Once this flame of divine love has been actualized within your heart, do nothing that would allow it to be extinguished. Cooperate with the Fire of God, and let it completely consume you.

    Put all your effort into this spiritual transformation that is beginning in your heart. Let nothing else take center stage over this action by God that is meant to save you, and make you complete. From a little flame, this fire will burn in your heart, and nothing of your fallen nature will be able to withstand it. This flame will transform your whole being, for the action of the Holy Spirit will take you into God’s Kingdom, which resides within you.

    Love in Christ,
    Abbot Tryphon”

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/morningoffering/2019/06/divine-warmth-3/

  15. We just have to remember all that happened after our Blessed and Holy Theotokos said “Yes” to the angel Gabriel! Where would we be, if she had said, “No!”

    Sometimes our NO leads us to another YES door, and this can be good for our whole being.

    Interesting article & comments…..

  16. Through a conversation with Mary Benton a while back, I found some works of Mother “Gabriel” online. I assume that this is Mother Gavrilia, as the web page intro says “Mother Gabriel, The Ascetic of Love , by Sister Gabriel, publisher ”
    http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/gabriel.html

    Esmee, are these “sayings” (part 1 – 4) a section of the book or is it it’s entirety?

  17. Paula AZ – Those are only from the very last part of her book. The book itself includes a substantial biography of her life and works.

    For those of you who are on Facebook, I have a page called “Orthodox Christian Inspiration,” with an album titled “Mother Gavrilia” which is dedicated to all of my favorite excerpts from her book “The Ascetic of Love.” I also have an album titled “Saint Porphyrios” dedicated to my favorite quotes from Wounded by Love.”

    https://www.facebook.com/OrthodoxChristianInspiration/

  18. Thanks Esmee.

    My pleasure, Maria 🙂 Looking forward to checking out Esmee’s treasures!

  19. Abbott Tryphon’s message is very beautifully put in each of our hearts! Thankyou for passing it along to us…..

  20. Father,
    This piece brought to mind a talk of Elder Aimilianos on the same theme which I have kept notes on, due to its constant needfulness. It can be seen as both ‘difficult’ as well as ‘liberating’ (depending on what one wants to try to take away from it).
    He expounded that the best approach for us all is to live reality in all-embracing acceptance of every occasion. He reminded us that we often think ourselves to be struggling for God’s sake, when we are actually just worshiping the idol of our self: this is a critical problem, which holds true for every single person who cannot accept positively every occurrence that transpires, as God’s will.
    “We must say ‘yes’ to every thing that befalls us, as we would say “yes” to a royal garment that God would have us adorned with to appear before the Heavens in wonderful dignity, whether it is poverty, sickness, loss, failure.”
    “When we try to overcome all these: to change ourselves to be better in order to start a spiritual life, when we desire to change our environment, to change people around us in order to inaugurate a more spiritual life, when we want the evil ones to become good, the immoral persons to become moral, the unjust to be just, the liars to become truth-tellers, the carnal spiritual, then we fall into the greatest temptations and reach the end of our lives without having known the mysteries of the heavenly life, living not as servants of God but as servants of our selves deluded into thinking we are serving God.
    So saying “yes” to illness, to difficulties, to stumbling blocks, …to God’s providence in whatever form it comes to us… is key.”

  21. So I have a question. Let’s say someone close to us is having a very difficult trial. It is painful and sad to watch. I can’t make anyone else say yes, obviously. But what does it look like for me to say yes in this situation?

  22. Mama V
    I could be wrong, but I, myself, think that what it would look like for me to say ‘yes’ when someone close to me is having a difficult trial is this:
    I would internally, ‘secretly’, believe God is at the wheel (i.e. I don’t need to be gratuitously vocal about this), and that whatever comes to pass, is the most perfect thing that could –in the grand scheme of things– have occurred, despite the (very different) assumptions wordly reasonings might lead to.
    I would outwardly try to help in all things great and small, but without stress –as far as I can– and with that belief-in-God’s-providence that I have witnessed saints never, ever lose: a belief so great that it is also a belief in the potential of the person who is being trialed, a poised ‘hesychastic’ belief that can impart positivity and help actualize this potential more than any activistic worrying on my side expressed as words, sighs, prayers or actions ever could.

  23. Doing it is -at times of trials– like driving a car at a race while trying to keep the prayer ‘Glory to Thee oh Lord, thy will be done’ all along.

  24. Thank you, Dino, another *GEM* for sure!

    MamaV – From my perspective, I think it might entail accepting what that person is going through as something God is either willing or allowing, knowing that everything is for our salvation, and simply “being” with that person in their suffering (assuming the situation cannot in fact be changed). I have a lot of experience with just how difficult it is for others to do this for me. I have an intractable chronic illness that I have tried to fix myself (in an effort to end my suffering, always seeing it as a bad thing) and for which I have found zero help from any doctor over a span of 30 years to help me. It has taken me until only the past year (thanks to the Orthodox Christian perspective on suffering, via lots of reading) to fully embrace that what I have suffered and continue to suffer has actually been the only way God probably could have ever personally gotten my attention. I can now honestly say in regards to my Cross(es) related to this health problem, ” Glory to God for ALL Things!” Interestingly, however, it’s been practically impossible for others in my life to accept that I have accepted it and that I’m totally okay with it. Everyone still wants to offer possible solutions that might fix it. I have come to realize that the reason for this it that its very hard for us humans to look at and be okay with the suffering of others. It makes us extremely uncomfortable to look at the discomfort of others without being able to do anything “material” to help. The result it that we often choose to either judge the person for somehow being responsible for their own suffering, or to avoid looking at them altogether.

  25. MaMaV – I see this suffering around me too and many times the only but powerful recourse is to pray for the poor soul’s conversion, enlightenment and peace – this would be merciful on your part and Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for mercy will be shown to them.”

  26. MamaV
    You’re right – we cannot say “yes” for anyone else – it’s not ours to do. For myself, I work at saying “yes” to the goodness of God – in spite of human suffering. Or, I see human suffering, do all I can to relieve it (if that’s possible or proper), or help another bear the burden, and then give thanks to God for His goodness. It is a confession of “nevertheless” (like the 3 young men in the fiery furnace). The suffering of this world is sometimes a very terrible thing (like burning young men alive). I can see and understand their “nevertheless,” but this is not saying that suffering is itself good. It’s not. Only God is good. Without Him, suffering would be the most meaningless thing of all.

  27. Barbara,

    I am sorry for you loss. It is often noted that there are a lot of ways to say the wrong thing to a person in your situation. Agreeing with your assessment that a YES to God is the way forward for you is assuredly not one of them.

    May your life (and all our lives) be rich in “yeses” to our good God in the days to come.

  28. Mama V and all,
    Along the same line, that is, what saying yes to God would look like when helping another in their suffering, some thoughts crossed my mind.
    I frequently need to remind myself to be aware of the effectiveness of non-verbal communication. Sometimes this could be subtle. For instance, to mimick the others’ body language. It is in a sense ‘going with their flow’; there is unspoken agreement that says in effect ‘I am with you’. Sometimes we do this unconsciously…one shifts the body in a certain direction and the other follows, one lowers the head, folds the hands, etc., then the other follows. This is an indication of an congenial intimacy without necessarily crossing boundaries.
    A certain eye contact (soft, attentive) is important. Sincerity, care, willingness is reflected in the eyes/eyebrows. If there is an instance where their choices have led to some serious consequences, they will clearly detect through non-verbal cues sadness and regret in their suffering. Verbally, this doesn’t necessarily have to be directly addressed. Most of us are quite aware that we have erred. If they ask for advice, good. If not, I tend to leave it at that.
    Gestures, tone of voice, body language, attentive listening go hand in hand with spoken words. I believe it complements a sincere and compassionate interaction. And is a way of saying yes to the goodness of God in doing all you can to help alleviate and/or support them in their struggles.

    Just some thoughts….

  29. This post has given me much hope and joy. It also really brings full circle your last couple posts. Thank you,

  30. I think that, as Elder Aimilianos explains, in our suffering (and that of others) we ought to internally ‘balance on the knife edge’ between confidently believing that God can instantly and wondrously solve any problem we encounter, no matter how great, while we also fully accept that this needn’t transpire of necessity, or as and when we ourselves envisage it, remaining calm and unperturbed no matter what. We see how the Mother of God does this in Canaan, appealing, while accepting (any outcome), with trust and yet without assumptions, neither with worry, nor expectations.
    The often contested passage: “What to me and to Thee oh Lady” , was interpreted by the Elder as if to say: ‘you and I fundamentally have one and the same glory (!), [as if saying, ‘I would obey to your appeal as if it is my command oh Lady’,, but], “my hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).
    It’s also worth noting that we have a commandment from the Theotokos in written form next, when despite being assured that her Son’s hour is not yet come, She utters: “Do whatsoever he may say to you”. .
    I don’t think we can find a greater example of saying ‘yes’ with all our being than Her.

  31. I like this: “Not doing something is an emptiness and carries no weight. It creates a vacuum that waits to be filled.”

    I have been listening to the emptiness of ‘no’ too much. It is destructive. ‘Yes’ is worth the change.

  32. Esmee,
    Your perspective is very helpful. It certainly is hard to just accept suffering and stop trying to fix it, in myself or others.
    Dino, the part about quietly believing that God is wondrously in control was good. That requires real belief. Very vocally “believing” that could easily turn into trying to force a yes out of someone.
    Paula,
    What you say about body language I think comes straight from what Dino said; if I can really truly internally trust God, then I can enter into suffering with others, and my whole demeanor will show that. If I am not holding back, trying to avoid pain. . .
    Thank you all for your thoughts!

  33. Mama V…I noticed that too! It is a blessing that our conversation flows and reinforces the message that Father Stephen brings to us. There are many ways to express the love of God…endless! Good conversations that for me are hard to find ‘out there!

    Dino…this is rich:
    “The often contested passage: “What to me and to Thee oh Lady” , was interpreted by the Elder as if to say: ‘you and I fundamentally have one and the same glory (!), [as if saying, ‘I would obey to your appeal as if it is my command oh Lady’,, but], “my hour has not yet come” (John 2:4).”
    Then She gives in a form of a commandment (I like that…never heard it put that way), “do as He tells you”. Showing us that Her assurance was Her trust in Her Son’s goodness. It is always ‘yes and amen’! Like in another place She says “Let it be unto me according to your word…”. She didn’t quite understand the whole thing then either.
    Our blessed Mother!

  34. I this reminds me of something I learned a while back on the negativity of No. I don’t think there is anyone who likes to hear the word “no”. I have found with children that it is much more effective to get cooperation when you suggest something positive in place of the “No” you may be tempted to say. Like instead of saying, “No, don’t go outside.” say instead “Come here to me.” At first it is a lot of work to creatively think of something positive when the default is to just say “No” but does really take all that long. And after a while the positive becomes the natural default and there is much more peace in the house. This seems to be true in interacting with all ages.Since God is all positive and if we are to be like him, positive utterances should flow from our mouths too.

  35. Lisa – This is true for folks with Alzheimer’s also. I was taking care of a 90 year old woman with Alzheimer’s once who got extremely upset because I had to place her meds out of reach. Long story short, I had to call paramedics and have her hospitalized. The paramedics told me that giving people with Alzheimer’s a “choice” is the most effective way to get them to cooperate. In order to get her to willingly enter the ambulance (which she really did not want to do!), the paramedic asked her which pair of shoes she wanted to wear during the ride, Lol. And that was all it took. This very simple “choice” gave her a feeling of freedom and control and empowerment, which then allowed her to acquiesce to the more important need of the moment. It was really fascinating for to witness this.

  36. On our upset for the suffering of others (if we think we have attained to not getting upset for our own), Elder Aimilianos is clear that when scripture says:
    “we rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3) This “our” includes the sufferings of all others too – as he always saw all sufferings (his very life proved this beyond a shadow of a doubt) as the most heroically salvific means available to us all…
    He describes our mourning for any sufferings–instead of “rejoicing” (Romans 5:3)– a very understandable, human failing that signifies with great certainty however that we are not yet fully devoted to God and the things above.
    He made the point by reminding us that [in a homily on mourning for the suffering of our spiritual Father as being misplaced] in Leviticus 10, Aaron’s sons, Nadab and Abihu, are put to death (fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them ) for offering unauthorized fire in their censers before the Lord, contrary to his command, and then Moses said to Aaron and his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, to not mourn and to not tear their clothes, or they will die too, such mourning for the suffering of others would be a sin. Even that suffering (that fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them ) was salvific for them, so, how could we possibly then cry about it? Wouldn’t that be like saying to the Lord: “you didn’t do things right!?”

  37. Dino,
    I remember a similar comment in the past about mourning for other’s suffering as not being ‘as high’ of state (“not fully devoted to God or the things above”). In the past comment stream the question was posed about the Theotokos at the foot of the cross. Do you suppose she didn’t mourn? I appreciate the confidence in God’s salvific mercy that you show (and I believe this also.. However, I personally believe that that Theotokos (as did the Lord Himself in the garden before His betrayal) said “Thy will be done” in tears and great grief.

  38. In my previous comment, the passage of Christ that I was thinking of actually says this (NKJ):
    Luke 22:44 : “And being in agony He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground.”

    This passage does not state tears but sweat of agony.

  39. Sorry here are more verses about Christ’s ‘state of mind’

    Mark 14:34, “Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch”. (NKJ)

    Matthew 26:38, “Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me. (NKJ)

  40. Dee of St Hermans,
    Mourning for what God allows (i.e.: salvific sufferings) is what the Elder characterises as misplaced, mourning for sin is not.
    The first contains seeds of despair, the second of hope.
    The Elder addressed that very objection you raised, just before saying what I communicated above.
    He did, in fact, spend more time on that very objection than on what I related earlier regarding “rejoicing in sufferings” (Romans 5:3).
    In a nutshell, for brevity’s sake here, what he says is this:

    “Christ, having bound his will to the will of the Father, could not be ‘shaken’ when it says ‘troubled’ (John 11:33), also, his sadness ‘and sweat of agony’ (Luke 22:44) prior to his passion, was natural, because this agony wasn’t so much for himself –although a God incarnate was suffering–, but because ‘He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.’ (John 1: 11). Humankind did not receive its God as God, how was it possible to not feel pain when He is the loving Creator of those who continue in their self-imprisonment…?”

  41. Dino,
    You wrote in your comment that I responded to that we should not mourn for other’s sufferings, did you not? If not, please I encourage you, to explain more carefully your first sentence. And how would do know which suffering is salvific and which is not? How do we parse such suffering?

  42. How would one know which suffering is which? Is not all of the world, all of creation groaning in such agony? This is indeed the in-coming of the Kingdom of God, however, to mourn for certain types of suffering and not others? I’m not so sure. We might not cry when someone goes into labour before childbirth. Therefore one might argue that such suffering is similar to what you describe, however, I still feel it is too heavy handed.

  43. The way I understand the Elder is that he is not heavy-handed but liberating. When I feel ‘oppressed’ by his suggestion to not mourn, and think it heavy-handed, I miss the point that he is communicating: to trust that God is at the wheel, to remember that His disciples truly did –and so can we, even if in part– “rejoice in sufferings” (Romans 5:3), thanks to such trust.
    It is something that is there for us to be encouraged by (and not be discouraged by) when we encounter life’s difficulties. It is not one more thing to be brought down by, but something to be lifted by. He would certainly say one needn’t bother with that advise if they see it that way, we certainly are not yet capable of discerning what suffering is of what type… He provides a pillow of comfort to rest on, not a chain to be shackled with. He is like a surgeon who finds the most hidden expressions of human egoism, what we all call natural, and points them out, it can hurt, but it is truly healing and liberating and directs us towards the heavenly joy that we have been called towards.

  44. Dino,
    I sincerely appreciate your words and they are certainly ‘food’ for thought that I desire and love.

    I’m still considering your comment further and shall engage the Lord in prayer concerning these words. Since I haven’t read the Elder, I’m still considering whether it is your translation of his intent that I might still have difficulties.

    Generally, I’m not inclined to attempt to parse someone’s faith on their expression of grief in response to suffering. But I note and agree that experiencing grief with hope is completely different from that of despair.

    Again thank you for your comments. The end result is always edifying whether or not I wholeheartedly agree.

  45. As with all advise and commandments, they are for each person that takes them in as for: ‘my’ application, ‘my’ grief, ‘my’ joy, ‘my’ faith… That of others cannot be our judgement or even our parsing concern.

  46. Dee,
    You said:
    ” I’m not inclined to attempt to parse someone’s faith on their expression of grief in response to suffering.”

    One thing that I have learnt over the years through reading this blog, Father Stephen’s teaching and Dino’s explanations of the deepest Orthodox tradition (as expressed in teaching of our beloved Elder Aimilianos) is that we can only apply what we read to ourselves, and nobody else (to parse only our own faith). As Dino often reminds us, the Church teaches strictness in Her general tradition, but offers great forgiveness and care in comforting an individual suffering person (through a confessor or spiritual father who can help us with specifics).

    As you beautifully said, may we all learn to suffer rightly as “experiencing grief with hope is completely different from that of despair.”

  47. Dee, Dino, etc.
    Such pronouncements are worthy of meditation – but, it’s always problematic for someone who is suffering, for any reason, to be told not to grieve, or that their sorrow is misplaced. Such statements can be deeply counterproductive, depending on who reads them when. All of that is to say, if someone reading the Elder’s thoughts is scandalized by them, just set them aside and let it be.

  48. Father,
    Certainly, this can be considered another “hard saying” (“who can accept it?” – John 6:60). It cannot be directed towards a person during their time of weakness, rather it should be freely adopted during their time of vigour to prepare them for their time of trial.

    “I prepared myself, and was not terrified” (LXX Psalm:118/119:60)

    Such statements (which were typically pronounced to specific people, or groups of people, at specific times in their lives), as with our Lord’s ‘hard sayings’, have now found their way in written form.
    The need to discover the discernment of how to even approach them, in order to not be counterproductively scandalised by them but to benefit and prepare, is one more longstanding struggle.

  49. Thank you Dino, I love to continue to learn of Elder Aimilianos’ words. This conversation also makes me think of the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept”. This has always been very moving to me, as He knew He would raise Lazarus shortly after. Out of love, Jesus wept over suffering, even suffering that would forever be a pathway unto Pascha…I have been personally comforted by this in my life…
    This small writing gives explanation for Christ’s tears, ultimately out of love for his friend, and by this very extension, for the whole world.
    http://www.pravmir.com/why-did-christ-weep-on-lazarus-saturday/
    I guess I find both aspects to be important things to ponder in suffering…

  50. Anonymous,
    Although that article makes a very good point on the cosmic dimensions of Lazarus / humanity and its loving Creator weeping contemplating the miserable state of the world and of man, (the king of creation who “stinketh,”) it needn’t denigrate ‘Byzantine hymnographers’ saying they ‘“fail to grasp the true meaning of these tears. As man Thou weepest, and as God Thou raisest the one in the grave…”They arrange the actions of Christ according to His two natures: the Divine and the human’. The hymnographers are also right. The original does not say that Christ cried, “ἐδάκρυσεν” literally means “he shed a tear(s)”.

  51. Fr Stephen,
    Thank you so much for your words. I hear in them the pastoral discernment of love toward others that I needed to hear.

  52. As Dino said, we are to apply everything we read to ourselves and not to anyone else. It seems to me that the Elders words on not mourning over the suffering of others does not preclude us from feeling compassion for the suffering of others and doing whatever we can to comfort them, while simultaneously trusting in God’s Providence that everything occurs according to His permission or His will.

  53. I find this very helpful. I usually co-suffer in one of two selfish ways; either making it way too personal and being in agony because it’s all about me, or avoiding the pain as much as possible, and trying not to care so it doesn’t hurt. This idea of trusting God’s goodness (thus preventing the depression death spiral) and still sharing the suffering (thus preventing the lack of sympathy) is well worth pondering and trying to put into practice.

  54. I appreciate the continued dialogue. However, if one mourns regarding someone’s suffering, I do not consider that selfish. I beg to differ. And I will probably not budge on this. I appreciate Esmee’s correlation to compassion, but beyond that still, there is love. And love can hurt and in Christ’s love of others one can (I suppose I should just say “I”) weep, when I see their suffering. So in this context, then, I suppose I have a lesser faith. Let the Lord enlighten my darkened soul.

    I’m not going to argue this point further.

  55. Dee,
    A healthy approach when discovering any internal annoyance while encountering challenging sayings (our Lord’s word is replete with them) is to neither veer towards ‘superiority’ nor ‘inferiority’.
    It goes without saying that almost every energy of a person (movements towards mourning or rejoicing, for example) can be done in three ways (and in three degrees): [1]according to nature, [2]perversely sub-natural, and [3]divinely supra-natural. Even the greatest mourning (as in the Theotokos under the Cross) can be natural: without being a sin but also without being a virtue (which we might like to label it when we become frustrated with the proposal of Romans 5:3)

    I certainly needn’t turn an Elder’s inspiring encouragement into discussion about its feasibility when it does not inspire me, let alone find sordidness in his call to supra-natural dignity.
    Let it inspire others without worrying if it doesn’t inspire me yet.

  56. I might be mourning for the loss of my burnt home, the death of my daughter, or mourning for the apostasy of the world, for the one and only sinfulness in the world –mine – (an action that St Isaac the Syrian calls higher than seeing angels and than returning apostates to faith), but my mourning (even in the last case – the pre-eminent salvific action), has something greater than it: glorifying the Lord with the totality of my being – without any shadow of interference…

  57. I might add to the later postings something which deeply affected me in studying Dostoievski’s last novel, which was that it was written after his youngest son Alexei had died at three years old, afflicted apparently with the same epilepsy that his father had encountered. I don’t think he could have written such a great work other than as, finally, a saying Yes to God.

    There’s a beautiful passage where the elder responds to a woman whose son Alexei has died:

    “This is Rachel of old ‘weeping for her children, and she would not be comforted, because they are not.’ This is the lot that befalls you mothers, on earth. And do not be comforted, you should not be comforted, but weep. Only each time you weep, do not fail to remember that your little son is one of God’s angels…”

  58. “Let it inspire others without worrying if it doesn’t inspire me yet .”
    Dino…”yet”???
    This is the problem…what if this certain elder’s words do not inspire me ever? What if I am blessed by reading someone else (there are thousands!)? There is an implication of necessity here. There is also an implication that there is something wrong with the person who is uninspired for whatever reason.
    When I suggested in another post that it was not necessary to read his works, why did I get such a harsh response? It is to the point now that I can not read any of Elder Aimilianos’s work without being reminded of these repeated underlying contentious, “taking sides” conversations. It is tiring. And I do not need to be reminded that it is my fault, my sin, my stubbornness, my lack of spirituality that I am not inspired “yet”. I know all that already.

  59. Dino, Paula, et al

    Let this be enough. Hard sayings are one thing – how we handle them are another. Bless the difficulties, give thanks for all things, and forgive one another.

    It is easy to forget that space between us – cultural and otherwise – that is only overcome in Christ.

    I recall many years ago reading what I think was a very ill-advised and dubious saying attributed to St. Seraphim in Lazarus Moore’s book. I found it painful in the extreme. It left me estranged from my favorite saint for more than a decade – even though, reasonably, I was able to doubt he had said such a thing. It robbed me of something precious. By God’s grace, that was later overcome.

    Proverbs says: A word in due season – how good it is.

  60. Definitely Father,
    Whether the word is: “you should not be comforted, but weep”, or its antithesis: “you should not weep, but be comforted”, a “word’s” goodness is only fully apparent in due season.

  61. That’s helpful…thank you. “A word in due season.”
    Father, it is always helpful when you relate your own similar stumbling’s over a true saint’s words…one who has reached the heights. Especially that you knew rationally that it couldn’t be so, and that in time it was overcome, always by God’s grace. It robbed you of something precious. So true. So sad.
    I want to remember, when I receive a word in due season to rejoice. When it is out of season, rejoice!, knowing that the difficulty will be overcome, somehow, in due time.

    Thank you too Dino. Forgive me.

  62. Dino et al

    Regarding mourning and suffering – I almost posted this yesterday but held off…

    perhaps a helpful (i hope) analogy is childbirth – this at least is a joyous occasion, but involves great suffering on behalf of the woman. for 9 months she has prepared for this day. (and in this case, its helpful to consider natural childbirth) – that throughout the pain and contractions of labor, the suffering is only bearable because the mother focuses on her child

    During labor, there are methods to manage its pain, but the pain largely out of our control – and so it would be silly, pointless and heartless to tell the laboring mother not to moan, or cry or feel the pain. yet at the same time for a woman, she finds the strength to bear the pain and even rejoice in the labor because the fruit of her labor is holding and loving her baby – new life.

    but a spectator to her exhaustion and the pain of her childbirth might not notice her rejoicing in her labor, because that rejoicing is in the depth of her heart

    so i think of suffering in that way, if my brother suddenly dies, if my mother disowns me, if any number of terrible events come my way – from my own choices or just the circumstances of life happening – I certainly will weep, moan, lament and grieve – those sufferings are my labor and my labor is my cross . in the immediacy of these events a spectator may not be aware of my rejoicing in my suffering, because of my display of grief – and I may not even be able to articulate to a spectator or friend my rejoicing in the labor of my suffering, because – honestly I have got to breath and push through those contractions which are very painful – its just really not a good time for that conversation –

    the timing of our words is important, just like we are not going to have a deep conversation with a woman in labor but give her some space, hold her hand, give her some ice or water, encourage her, we don’t need to rush to tell people who are suffering a loss – whatever it is – that they should rejoice in their suffering. its counter- productive and you might get a bad reaction. also, there are only certain people allowed in the delivery room – not everyone gets to be in that intimate space.

    Like a woman in childbirth channeling all of her pain into holding the miracle of her child, if while carrying my cross, my focus is on Christ, if I see in my suffering an invitation to deepen my relationship to Christ, then the fruit of that labor of suffering is a salvific birth and rejoicing deep in my heart – a rejoicing that is going on always – like the continually reciting of the Jesus Prayer

    … the issue is how we suffer and mourn, not whether we will suffer – but throughout our suffering – where is our focus, if it is the heavenly gaze, a deepening of prayer, a continued repentance , allowing that all eventualities fulfill God’s holy Will (not mine) and all things (and here we especially have to mean suffering) work together for good for those that love God

    Also, I would say that the labor analogy is helpful when viewing the suffering of others. Often we want to take great measures to end suffering – we say no rather than yes – but you can’t stop a pregnant woman from having her labor – but you can be there for her, help her prepare, help her recover, and especially if you are a woman, you will have empathy, but with the knowledge that she and her baby will come through the labor- though it involves a period of intense pain.

    but I do feel strongly that it is not helpful to tell people not to mourn or suffer – that can cause psychological problems – a healthy period of bereavement – that is actually cathartic in nature- is one year – that is meant to be a period of grief, mourning, stillness, and healing and all of that is a yes if our focus is on Christ

    I appreciate reading everyone comments and digging deeply into this topic, which is also very timely for me

    not sure my thoughts are helpful in any way but this an issue with which I myself have wrestled

  63. Victoria et al,
    There is no way to ‘time’ a valuable but also potentially ‘hard’ and ‘misinterpreted-able’ word (that could also be mistimed as you say) in the comments section of a blog!
    But such a ‘word’, does require long, preparatory ‘cultivation’ before trials befall us, as in: “I prepared myself, and was not terrified” (LXX Psalm:118/119:60), making its availability of greater worth than its non-availability in the comments section of a blog!
    I’d also personally like to interpret it as a ‘yes’ to rejoicing rather than a ‘no’ to mourning…

  64. just to make sure there are no misunderstanding, my dear Dino – I actually love everything you wrote in the comments and I am also especially uplifted by the words of Elder Aimilianos (of blessed memory)

  65. Victoria,
    Outstanding example – of which I am in awe. St. Paul strikingly compared the whole of this dispensation (as we live towards the coming of Christ in glory) as like a woman in childbirth (Romans 8). Your meditation on that has deepened my thoughts on that passage this morning. Thanks!

  66. Victoria – That was a wonderful analogy!

    Paula – I remember the previous conversation and you comment that there was no necessity to read Elder Aimilianos. Of course there is no necessity to read the Elder’s words! We are give two great commandments in which all the Law and the Prophets are encompassed: 1) love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength; and 2) love your neighbor as yourself.

    Many simple-minded, simple-hearted and completely illiterate folks do a much better job at fulfilling these commandments than someone like myself who is so steeped in intellectual rationality. For me, reading the Elder’s words do become a kind of “necessity” if I want to truly grow in Christ because he helps me to recognize how my human way of thinking and feeling prevents me from being able to simply love the other.

    But the words of Elder Aimilianos are certainly not going to resonate with every Orthodox Christian who reads him. And as Saint Paul stated, we are surrounded by “a great cloud of witnesses” who can support us in our journey to Christ. We have so many wonderful saints to choose from!

    I will end with another quote on this issue from Mother Gavrilia…

    “Never ask: ‘Why has this happened to me’? When you see somebody suffering from gangrene or cancer or blindness, never say: ‘Why has this happened to him’? Instead, pray God to grant you the vision of the other shore…Then, like the Angels, you will be able to see things as they really are: Everything is in God’s plan. EVERYTHING.”

    She was one of the most compassionate and selfless individuals I have ever read about. She spent her entire life comforting those who were suffering.

  67. Victoria…woman! Thank you! I am in awe too! I’m keeping your comment!

    Esmee…thank you. I understand completely what you are saying.

  68. Victoria,
    After thinking about this for a few days, I just wanted to say that I am in agreement with the spirit of your comments, but I feel there is one minor thing to maybe address.

    “…a healthy period of bereavement – that is actually cathartic in nature- is one year…”

    I think this is likely true for many issues. However, the literature indicates that when it comes to the top stressors— death of spouse, death of child, and adultery, for example— the REALISTIC timeline for grief and healing is more like *five* years, give-or-take a little due to individual differences. This timeline bears out in my own experience working in the healthcare field, and I believe that honoring this timeline does wonders for the mental and spiritual health and growth of those who suffer these catastrophes.

    I do agree with the spirit of your comment, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling of an invisible reader suffering guilt over grief that lasts longer than a year.

  69. Dear Tess,
    As one who has suffered such losses, my own experience corroborates your information. Thank you for your willingness to add it to this conversation.

  70. In the 80’s I was conversing with an acquaintance. I asked if he had been in WWII. He replied no, but he had an older brother who had served in Europe. I asked if he were still living. He answered in the negative, that he had been killed in the war. As soon as those words were out of his mouth, large tears welled up in his eyes. A very tender spot in his heart still for his dear brother, some 40 years later.

  71. Tess
    Yes – I agree with you!! 😊

    For myself I have never fully gotten over the losses of my loved ones – and I still cry about them.

    but that grief does change over time. My only reason for putting a year is that it was typical period of public bereavement in times past – for example in the Victorian era a period of one year of “full mourning” was set aside for widows as a period of grieving. As Americans we have largely eradicated formal periods of bereavement and mourning from our culture.

    In long marriages a widower has a much greater chance of death within the first year of the loss. Grieving affects our whole bodies – not emotions. Attending to our grief is spiritual and physical necessity.

    So yes I totally agree with you. – Tess and I’m glad you wrote that.

    Some parishes have grief counselors and is an invaluable resource and support for those grieving but it will never dry the tears we shed for those we’ve lost we love. Such tears of mourning are born of deep relationships and a gift.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.